I can remember now for damn near close to 50 years of my life, stumbling across the phrase from the disciple whom Jesus loved in chapter 1 of his gospel, “Behold the Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world!”. And I guess I knew what that meant to a degree, even in my earlier years of being enamored with this incredible and inexhaustible book. And so, in a very real sense, I have always “gotten it” you might say. At least enough to admit I am also “a chief of sinners”, and to recognize why iniquity is actually a watershed issue in my own being. But let’s just say that the older I get, and the more I people-watch, including myself; it’s a really, really, really big deal man. But hear me out.
I recall it like it was yesterday several years back now, hearing an old preacher describing an absolutely horrific event that occurred to some small children in a flat in New York City, that would make your skin crawl right off your body and into the nearest holy water for full immersion. After mentioning this story, that was hard to even fathom with a straight face, he then said, “If you knew what happened each night in even one city block of your cozy little life, you wouldn’t even be able to sleep at night”. I paused, and then wept bitterly like a kid knowing his Dad’s ass whooping was imminent. And the harshness of that truth hit me like a freight train ran out of station, and I have never forgotten it to this day. But I think we as a people, or at least those who still call themselves Christian, may actually have.
Sin…You Talking to Me?
In fact, if you’ll indulge me a bit, I think sin used to be language that even the most nominal of Christians talked about in our culture. Oh sure, some of it was “much ado about nothing” as they went on about their day, but it did make for enlightening conversation that was somewhat culturally accepted as a universal truth one could agree on. Yet I think it is safe to say that the concept of sin has actually fallen on a bit of hard times though don’t you think? Sin as syndrome I like to call it. We are now born, not with sin per say, but rather a syndrome that God himself interjected into our DNA that we can’t actually help, and is something that requires a pill, or perhaps a simple waiving of a magic wand as to our exception to what once was a rule for all of us fallen creatures. Not anymore. It seems we all get a hall pass for whatever feels intrinsic to us, whatever our dispensation is, or whatever tickles our particular fancy. After all, God would want us to be happy at the expense of some minor detail that killed His son. And that narrative is now no longer blowing in the wind, but in fact “is” the wind itself. And so, the road has gotten even more narrow I presume, and few there be that will ever find it.
A Case in Point
I’ve always been intrigued by the story of the woman caught in adultery in John chapter 8. Some question whether it was in the original manuscripts and rather inserted later, while others speculate as to who it was, what Jesus was writing in the sand, etc;–but one thing is for sure: it speaks profoundly to Jesus’ response to SIN. The part we love of course is that there were no jive-talkin Pharisee’s left to throw any stones, while we postulate it primarily had to do with the fact that they had each had their own taste of the woman in question. We are then contrarily endeared to Jesus instead, who we envision rolls away the stones of accusation into our own drama—and that he does it “seventy times seven” or so. But perhaps, just perhaps; what we miss, is that His admonition to her is to “Go, and sin no more”.
Now we are not given any details to sew this story up tightly afterwards either, as to whether the woman ipso facto was then ushered into a life of fidelity with no further mishaps. We’re not given this info. I’d like to think if the woman is anything like me, soon afterwards, when she had one too many drinks, she sought relief again in even some bad sex for goodness sakes. Or perhaps, she was a woman caught up in a tailspin of survival of the fittest, and the prospects of a few mouths to feed led her back to the hope that maybe “this is the one”. We just don’t know. But what we mustn’t miss is the fact that on the narrow path, though God understands our susceptibilities, and our predicament, His desire is never to leave us where he found us on the road of no more sticks and stones–but to change us from the inside out into a microcosm of Himself! And the most difficult thing for the gag reflex of American Christianity to now take in, is that it has much more to do with Godliness than our endless pursuit of life, liberty and ever elusive happiness. And this central truth of Christianity, is currently now on a slow morphine drip, awaiting the final pulling of the plug!
Did we Pull the Trigger?
I was reading John chapter 19 the other day as Jesus is in the crosshairs of his fate. And as I read about the soldiers, Pilate, the chief priests, and even the people that watched and benefited from his miracles, yet who later called for Barabbas instead, I was reminded that we’re all caught up in the story really. We all have our own stones, our own nails, and our own repulsion to someone, anyone, who would dare ask us to be anything but “me”. And as I contemplate the drops of blood and the cup of sin he imbibed, it all of a sudden means the world to me. And again I suppose; if we really imagined our own part in handing down Jesus’ verdict, what goes on any given day in our day to day relationships, or what goes on just on our own city block–we might just begin to see why this is actually a big, hairy, frickin deal.
John the Baptist told us this too don’t you know. In fact, he was the one who prepared the way of the Lord you might remember. He was the one called to get people’s hearts ready for real faith, instead of merely following for the perks, but rather for the purpose of becoming image bearers, created in the oftentimes crucible of our own suffering of sorts. But who the Hell wants that? Nonetheless, it was he who once said to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance”. And keeping with repentance, no matter how you slice it, even still being expounded from this archaic book, has fallen on the hardest of times in the cultural milieu; and yet it beckons us to constantly be about it. Summoning us to look into the mirror of our lives asking God for holy fashion tips, even when our tainted view of our narcissistic reflection motions us to forge the road of holy enlightenment alone. Meanwhile, the God we were told is to be the one true love of our lives, simply has to be demoted to second fiddle; when after all, He seems to be eternally playing hard to get.
But maybe, just maybe, that’s what all worthwhile lovers do.